Archive for the ‘Social media’ Category

Six times last week, I taught a class that I first presented last spring when I was interviewing for my current job at LSU: writing for social media.

In the context of a beginning “Media Writing” class that we require of all Manship School of Mass Communication students, I teach the techniques of good writing in the context of social media. While my background is strongest in journalism, I apply the points of the class to other specialties within the Manship School: political communication, public relations and digital advertising.

This is going to be a long post, probably helpful only to mass-comm teachers (or last week’s students who would like a review). But that’s who I’m writing it for, and it’s long because I want to invite you to use some of my slides and points in your classes and/or to invite me to cover these or similar points in your own classes or in a workshop at your university or a conference. Of course, I could adapt the presentation to a professional audience, too.

I will tell about the class mostly through the students’ tweets. At the opening of the class, I assigned students to tweet about my points, ask questions on Twitter, make observations, etc. during the class, so they would be applying the lessons as they were learning them.

Many of my slides from the class will show in the students’ tweets. I will supplement with some of the actual slides that didn’t make it into their tweets. If you want the full slideshow (which I’ve already updated since the last of this week’s classes), I’ve posted it at the end of the post. I welcome and encourage teachers to use the materials here however they are helpful, or to contact me to discuss how to teach this topic in your class.

I’ll add context here and there, but mostly the students will tell the story:

Platform shapes the writing

I start with a discussion of how the nature of a social platform and your audience there shape the writing on the platform: the privacy of Snapchat, the professional nature of LinkedIn, the heavily female user base of Pinterest, the 140-character limit of Twitter, etc.

Social media writing basics

Part of my introduction covered some principles of social-media writing that apply in all situations.

I admit it: I did shout “Squirrel!” in one of the classes to illustrate the many distractions people face as they multi-task social media use into their days.

How to handle opinions

We also discussed how importance context (and your bosses’ expectations are) in learning whether opinions are encouraged, allowed or forbidden in your job.

Writing for memes

Before discussing specific social platforms, I discussed writing for memes, which appear on a variety of social media (and teach writing lessons for a variety of professions).

I always plan to update slides before a class where appropriate, and last week’s World Series win by the Kansas City Royals gave me some great memes to share along with the class (I wore my 2014 World Series t-shirt to Monday’s classes).

A note on updating old examples or visuals for a class or workshop: When I did this class last spring, I used some Rand Paul memes. Ben Carson and Donald Trump hadn’t yet risen to prominence in the Republican presidential race. I updated my slides for last week with memes about both. I’ll use the Carson memes in a later post about how he’s playing on social media and in professional media.

Error pages

I used error pages as another example of social-media-style writing in other contexts than social networks. For instance, the error pages of Clinton‘s and Marco Rubio‘s campaigns use humor in attempts to turn the error-page experience into an opportunity to volunteer or hear the candidate’s message:



Writing for Snapchat

Now we’re into the actual social tools, starting with Snapchat (which the students know much better than I do).

Gathering material to write about

Though the course is about writing, I point out how closely writing and reporting are entwined. Making some points about using social media to gather material for writing, I use some examples from earlier blog posts about how the Denver Post used social media to get a great story and photos about a mountain lion staring a cat down through a glass sliding door in Boulder and a hard-news story about rape and victim-blaming in Torrington, Conn.

I shared Andy Carvin‘s search tip for breaking news stories:

Visuals are important in social-media writing

In social media, I noted, words and your creative use of them can have a visual effect with or without photos:

The tweets above refer to some creative use of returns and a screengrab from a court docket by the Boston Globe’s Hilary Sargent in her coverage of the Dzhokar Tsarnaev trial last spring. Here are two of my slides from Sargent’s tweets:



I show some examples of strong breaking news coverage in tweets:

I talk about how Twitter can help tell an unfolding story:

I tell how Brian Stelter used text messages to tweet the story of the Joplin tornado when he didn’t have enough cell signal to make a phone call or access the Internet.

Twitter helps your writing

I tell how Twitter’s 140-character limit can help your writing:

Even in long writing, a succinct point is important

Toward the end of the class, I make the point that even in longer writing, such as books or political speeches, they should use social-media writing skills to make a memorable, brief point. I use those slides separately in an accompanying post.

‘Be your best self’

In the questions at the end of one class, I passed on this advice from a friend (though I couldn’t remember who). If this is your line, please identify yourself and I will credit accordingly:

Other students’ tweets

We wrap up the course reviewing the students’ tweets and praising them for some that illustrated the very points I had been teaching. You’ve already seen some of the best, but here are some others that I liked:

I don’t actually plan to boast/complain of being blocked, then later whitelisted, by Twitter for tweeting too much. But someone asked whether there was a limit on how much you could tweets, so I confessed to hitting the limit back in 2012:

Unrelated advice on posting photos in social media

If  you look at most of the photos posted above, they could use some tighter cropping. I’ll confess that I don’t edit all photos that I post to social media. The swift posting of live-tweeting in particular doesn’t allow much time for editing photos and keeping up with the story. But editing doesn’t take long. I’d say a quick crop and adjusting the brightness of a dark photo are usually worth the time.

Slides from the workshop:

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I can’t remember the last time I posted a photo to Flickr or checked in on Foursquare.

I have no idea whether either or both social platforms will thrive just fine without me or whether others are moving away from them, too, and they’ll fade away soon.

Flickr was the first social network I used actively. I joined in June 2006, about six months before joining LinkedIn. Back when sending huge emails with lots of attachments was a big deal, Flickr was convenient for sharing photos. I’d just send out a link to photos of Mimi and me visiting Bryce Canyon or a shot of the family gathered for a wedding. I’d email links to family and friends along with an account of the trip or the gathering, and they would email back with encouraging or funny or sympathetic remarks, depending on the nature of my photo or message.

It was actually quite like posting a photo to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter today. Except that the conversation all happened on email, rather than on Flickr. Most of my family and friends never joined Flickr. But since my photos were public, they could see them and I shared photos more regularly than most of them.  (more…)

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Clay Shirky went on what he admitted up front was a “tweet rant” last night. It illustrates why I’m glad I’m on Twitter and why I think editors should be on Twitter. More on that later, but first, here’s Clay’s rant:

Did you know about Meatspace, Ello and ~Club? Are you using them? I had heard of one of them (Meatspace), but really didn’t know anything about any of them. And I’m not using them. I don’t know whether any of them is important to the future of media, or whether they are all destined-to-fail startups that reached their peak of fame in getting mentioned by Clay Shirky on Twitter. Only one of the three, Ello, has merited a mention in the New York Times that I can find.

Since I criticized Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet for not being active on Twitter and he responded, warning against creating a new “priesthood” for journalism, some have raised questions on social media, other blogs or in comments on my blog about how important it is to be active on Twitter and why.

Well, here’s a reason: Twitter is eight years old. I’m not saying it’s the cutting edge of digital media. It was eight years ago. If you’re active on Twitter, you may still be catching up. I don’t’ use Twitter to be on the cutting edge, just to keep from falling behind. But I want to be aware of the cutting edge and exploring the value of new tools. And you’re more likely to learn about those new tools on Twitter than in old media.

So now I need to go fiddle around with Meatspace. Or Ello. Or ~Club. Maybe all three.

Update: I’m no the waiting lists to get into Ello and ~Club. Meatspace looks kind of odd and probably not for me. But I thought the same thing about Twitter, too. First impressions aren’t a very good guide about the value of social media.



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Tumblr logoTumblr has been an underused instrument in my social media toolbox.

It’s easy to justify ignoring a tool you know is useful, because you have so many tools to use and so little time. But I want to keep learning about social tools and I sort of need to for my job. So it’s always kind of nagged at me that I haven’t done more with Tumblr.

I gave it a try three years ago during the Super Bowl with a Tumblr on trivia about Super Bowl quarterbacks. Somehow that topic caught my fancy back in the 1970s, when I noticed that six of the first eight Super Bowls were won by four different quarterbacks from Alabama (Bart Starr twice and Joe Namath) and Purdue (Len Dawson and Bob Griese twice). So I spent the day of the Super Bowl (maybe the day before, too; I can’t remember) tumbling about Super Bowl quarterback trivia. I don’t think anyone noticed. I got more response to a few tweets this year about quarterback trivia. And besides, that’s kind of a one-day blog. Or at best a couple weeks a year. How could it catch on?

Tumblr works best with visuals and I wasn’t posting photos or gifs of the Super Bowl quarterbacks, just questions. So that was a bust, but I kind of got my feet wet.

I used visuals and was more persistent with my DFM Engagement Tumblr, but again, I saw no sign that people were actually engaging with it or reading it at all. (We’re still engaging; maybe I’ll catch it up sometime and give it another try.)

Colleagues were having success with Tumblr. Ivan Lajara’s News Cat Gifs went viral. Martin Reynolds does a nice job with Rules of Engagement. Buffy Andrews promotes her novels. Zack Harold tumbls his adventures. Mandy Jenkins tumbls her cats and other stuff. But I was pretty much AWOL when it came to Tumblr.

I was amused/flattered by our CEO’s recent reference to me as our newsrooms’ Educator in Chief. Then this week, I was called a honcho and a news futurist blogger (guilty). So I decided to have some self-indulgent Tumblr fun with how the Internet refers to me, noting that I’ve self-inflicted some unusual  titles (with a prod from another CEO).

Please check out Buttrynyms and let me know what you think.

I will try to make it more funny than boastful. I won’t include all of Mimi’s references to me (I make it into her tweets often), though I used a few when I was getting my initial posts up last night.

I welcome your advice. How do I make a Tumblr blog successful? (What is success?) How do I Tumbl better? Where are the best posts with advice for journalists using Tumblr?

I don’t know how often I’ll update (the Internet isn’t talking about me constantly, fortunately). Occasionally I’ll dig up some past references in an attempt to keep it fresh. And maybe I’ll finally master Tumblr.


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I’m in Regina, Saskatchewan, today to lead a social media workshop for the Saskatchewan Media Guild.

I’m delighted to be working with my old friend Don Gibb, Canada’s leading writing coach. We tag-teamed four regional workshops for the Canadian Association of Newspaper Editors starting about a decade ago, but I think the last time we worked together was 2006 or 2007.

While I won’t be talking only about Twitter today, the most helpful links accompanying today’s workshop are from my #twutorial series.

Here are the slides I’ll be using in today’s workshop.

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buffy book author2smallThanks to Buffy Andrews for this guest post, which discusses different ways to promote your work. Buffy’s promoting her new novel (congratulations on getting that published, Buffy!), but you could use some of the same tools to promote an enterprise project, a special story, an event or your own career and portfolio of work.

Here’s Buffy’s post, with a note by me in italics.

ginamikecoverWhen my debut novel, The Yearbook Series: Gina and Mike, was published, I shared the news via various digital platforms. Of course, I did the usual Twitter and Facebook, but I also employed some other tools that you might not be quite as familiar with.


I love RebelMouse. It’s a great way to aggregate content from your social streams, including Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, blogs etc.

I created a RebelMouse page for “The Yearbook Series.”

“The Yearbook” RebelMouse page features:

1. Pins from “The Yearbook Series” Pinterest board. (via an RSS feed)

2. Tweets with the hashtag #Yearbookseries (set up to post automatically)

3. Posts that I manually add from various sources by inserting the url

4. Quotes from my book

5. Review snippets and links to reviews

6. Link to book on Amazon

and more

It’s a pretty robust way of curating and sharing content around a particular theme or event and its embeddable feature allows you to embed in a blog post or article web page. I also did one for the 150th anniversary of The Battle of Gettysburg and one for Authorbuffyandrews.


Buffy Andrews

Buffy Andrews

Pinterest is a visual bulletin board. Users pin things they like onto topical boards. (I have 123 boards!)

Authors can create a Pinterest board for each book. I did this for “The Yearbook Series.” They can also create an author board. I have one of these, too.

One way to share content about your book is to share the pin via Twitter or Facebook. You can also share the pin by sending it to friends and followers by hitting the “send” button and then adding either their name or email address. It also gives you the option of adding a message.

I did this for “The Yearbook Series” and added a note that I was sharing my new book and that I hoped they would check it out. Of course, the pin linked to the book on Amazon.

A Pinterest board for your book could include:

  • The book cover
  • Quotes from your book
  • Review snippets

You might even want to pin photos that relate to your character (ie. the little black dress she wore in Chapter 8 or the hotel where she married in Chapter 24).

Buttry note: My wife, Mimi Johnson, created a Pinboard to promote her novel, Gathering String. She did not use quotes or review snippets (though she might steal that idea). But she did pin photos and other images that illustrated aspects of the book.

TIP: To convert text to an image, I suggest using Quozio. You simply highlight the text and after several simple steps you have a visual element to pin (or tweet or share otherwise).

I recommend dragging the Quozio bookmarket to your toolbar so when you want to change text into an image you can do so quickly.

Remember, too, that if you do an rss feed of your Pinterest board on your RebelMouse page, the content on this pinboard will show up on RebelMouse automatically.


Storify lets users create stories using social media. Sources include Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Flickr, Youtube, Tumblr, SoundCloud and others.

You can embed your Storify in three different formats or styles (the default setting, grid and slideshow). I use the slideshow embed the most.

You can also export the Storify as a downloadable PDF. And you have the normal social share buttons.

I did a Storify for The Yearbook Series and included tweets, various links, etc. Then, I embedded the Storify on my blog and on the RebelMouse Yearbook Series page.

For more tips on promoting your book (or any content) , visit Buffy’s Write Zone post.

In the companion post on her own blog, Buffy explains how she used NewHive, YouTube, Tout and SoundCloud.

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Update: Now the #twutorial slides are on SlideShare’s “most popular” page, with more than 14,000 views.

SlideShare ranks way behind Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and lots of other social tools in the social media pecking order. But some slides I posted there last week (above) got more views than all but one blog post I ever wrote. And a slide show I posted last year got more views than any blog post I ever wrote.

My experience with SlideShare shows how even second-tier or third-tier social tools offer important engagement opportunities that journalists, educators and trainers should keep in mind.

I am as likely as anyone to make fun of PowerPoint presentations. I’m more likely to be annoyed by someone who reads his slides to me than I am to remember a speaker’s slide presentation. I’ve never browsed SlideShare myself to look at others’ slides and I seldom browse very far into a deck when I find one online with a blog post or linked to from a tweet or Facebook update. I’m not the audience of SlideShare, but I certainly am a user.

I believe in results. And SlideShare metrics show that slides work for some people. So I keep using slides in my workshops and SlideShare keeps showing those slides to far more people than my workshops reach (my 130 presentations and other documents have more than 220,000 views on SlideShare). (more…)

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